War in Heaven Again

Since I earlier wrote on LDS ideas about the war in heaven as that pertains to Revelation 12, I should probably point out the other common proof text, Isaiah 14.

Use of Is 14:12-15  to support Christian ideas about Satan’s displacement from heaven before the creation of the earth are far older than the modern prophets.  Most famously, I think, it is a central element in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic opens with Satan and his angels pancaked onto the rock-hard surface of  the burning lake in hell.  Like any good epic, however, PL starts in medias res so five more books pass before the reader gets to the Paul Harvey moment and finds out The Rest of the Story.

I actually quite like Milton’s version — it’s a bit of fun in an otherwise serious narrative.  After Satan rebels and moves his forces north, one angel, Abdiel, stands against him.  Once this little scene is finished the battle commences in earnest. At first the obedient angels are so successful that even Satan is wounded by Micheal’s sword, at which point “nectarous humors” flow from his side.  That night, Satan and his henchmen invent the cannon and make a couple of batteries, which they also conceal from their newly awakened foes until the last minute and correctly employ en masse for maximum effect.  Their attack throws their immortal enemies off their feet but cannot kill them because there is no such thing as a mortal wound for angels — only total annihilation works.

That Satan is one devious dude!

In retaliation, Micheal’s forces uproot mountains and hurl them at their foes.  At this point God intervenes, perhaps because his infinite foreknowledge knows that the landscape repair costs are going to get out of hand, and sends the Son in to deal with the situation.  For Satan, et. al., the next stop comes after nine days of falling when they go Splat! in Hell.

Very fun, no?

Anyway, Isaiah’s version is nowhere near as exciting because it lacks all those militaristic details and is, moreover, too serious for words:

Isaiah 14:12-15   12 How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!  13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon;  14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.”  15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.

Now clearly this is mythological writing at its finest.  Moreover, whatever it’s earliest provenance, at this point it is clearly intended as a taunt song against the king of Babylon:

Isaiah 14:3-4  3 When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve,  4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased! How his insolence has ceased…

Now to be clear, I have no problems with using this as a proof text for Satan’s experience of the war in heaven.  The only thing I’d like to see is a clear presentation of what is being done when we so use it, and why.  I bring this up because with the new semester I’ve got new students and as usual they are astounded at what their scriptures do or don’t say when it comes to stuff like this.

Most have no real problem once they get a chance to deal with the fact that the teachers they trusted didn’t tell them quite all truth, but there are some for whom it is quite a shock.  And it ought not to be so.  We really ought to be more forthright about how we use scripture, and our diligence in doing so ought to increase as our interpretive methods depart from a more literal and historical-critical approach.  Just so everybody knows…


1 Response to “War in Heaven Again”

  1. March 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    We actually did that in my EQ lesson on the War in Heaven; we read part of Paradise Lost (although not the epic details you’ve given here), read a large chunk of Isaiah 14, and talked about how, first, it was a taunt, second, it was allusive to Babylonian mythology, and third, Mormons and other Christians (including Milton) have often used it as a description/allegory/what-have-you of Satan’s being cast out of Heaven.

    I like your explanation; how does it go over with your students? My quorum didn’t object to the at least three levels of meaning the Isaiah had, and mostly didn’t fall asleep for the reading of Paradise Lost.

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Mormon Archipelago

January 2010
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